[Humanist] 26.417 assessments

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Oct 25 07:41:47 CEST 2012


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 417.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (79)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.416 assessments

  [2]   From:    Andrew Prescott <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>              (149)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.416 assessments

  [3]   From:    Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>                       (78)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.416 assessments


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2012 10:06:27 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.416 assessments
        In-Reply-To: <20121024072116.3F7C32E05 at digitalhumanities.org>


Great questions once again, Willard.

I think that rather than phrasing the question in terms of the computer
doing the "real work" (our living for us), we might want to think in terms
of different kinds of work.  People who wanted to generate lists of word
frequencies (like, say, Wellhausen) prior to the advent of computing had to
spend painstaking hours counting words by hand and, of course, undoubtedly
getting the count at least a little wrong.  Hence, the rise of the
concordance.  Once you produce a list you may as well publish it so that it
can be reviewed and corrected.

Only -after- all this counting had been done could the -other work- be
done, which involved analysis of word frequencies, word clusters, etc. Now,
computers are great at counting, but we don't have one that can perform
this analysis for us yet, especially any kind of analysis that takes into
account human, social, environmental, etc., factors that exist beyond the
words of any given text but certainly influence our understanding of the
text.

So I don't think it's a matter of the computer being a low-paid servant out
there doing the donkeywork (yes, I love this word) for us keeping us from
having to work at all.  Instead, it's more like an assistant that's better
than us at some tasks but can't perform others, so we divide the work
accordingly.

The question remains, of course: -why- aren't we using these assistants
more?  I think it's a combination of factors, including most of those you
list.  There are luddites among us humanists, but most of us aren't, I
think.  There may also be a luddism by default in that we don't want to
take the time to learn to use these ever-changing technologies because the
learning process would take too much time.

But it could be in some cases we really don't need them all of the time.
I'm currently writing an essay on Kierkegaard and literature for an
upcoming anthology and focus more upon very carefully read key passages
than mass clusters of data.  I have done the mass clusters of data kind of
work before, but don't do it exclusively, or even primarily.  I'm not
taking advantage of certain tools, then, only because my current work
doesn't require it.  I may need them later, even on my next project.  It
could also be true that these tools are like dishwashers -- once I got used
to them I couldn't live without them, and if I'd use them more often I'd
find more uses for them.  But, for now, I'm fine.

Jim R

On Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 3:21 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>
> Kenny's own response comes in the form of several hypotheses: (a) all
> humanists are by nature Luddites -- which he finds wanting; (b)
> digitization has failed to give us what we need -- the "one more heave"
> school of explanation he also finds inadequate; (c) a shift in scholarly
> focus away from the empirical sort of work our machines are esp good at,
> because humanists have fled quantification and so taken to the
> theoretical high ground -- which must have seemed plausible at the time
> but is rather less compelling now; (d) computing has become ubiquitous
> and so disappeared from the sight of most people or been manifested
> primarily by what has not been written -- which I find utterly
> unconvincing. He argues that even so the effect of computing hasn't been
> at all comparable in magnitude to the shift from oral culture to written
> or to the invention of printing, as so often claimed. "It has not so
> much changed patterns of scholarship as improved the life of the
> scholar, by freeing up a great deal of time from donkeywork for genuine
> research" (4).
>
> Here one of those words should cause us to choke. Compare
> medievalist Franklin J Pegues' statement from 1965:
>
> > The purpose of the machine is not to dehumanize the humanities but to
> > free the humanist for the important work of literary criticism by
> providing
> > him with large and accurate masses of data that may be used by him in
> > the work which only he can accomplish.
> "Editorial: Computer Research in the Humanities". Journal of Higher
> Education 36.2: 105-8.
>
> Either Pegues nailed the real contribution of computing in 1965 or -- my
> suggestion -- the problem is precisely the relegation of computing to
> service so that we can do something else. Hence Kenny's "donkeywork". (The
> usual term in the historical literature is "drudgery", but the underlying
> social model, and the real problem here, is the same: servitude. Is this
> the
> best way to design for the computing of the future, to design for a way of
> being that has us as lords and ladies waited on by morally neutral
> servants (who, of course, do the living for us)?
>



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2012 17:19:20 +0100
        From: Andrew Prescott <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.416 assessments
        In-Reply-To: <20121024072116.3F7C32E05 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

I have never read a posting that so accurately and succinctly describes 
the issues confronted by the digital humanities, while suggesting a 
clear way forward. It made me think more about what that way forward 
might be.

I went to the launch of a book to which I contributed today, which 
derived from a project working with schoolchildren in East London to 
consider the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Copies of the book were given to 
all the children who took part in the project, and as they arrived at 
the Barbican, these children were desperate to see advance copies of the 
book, to see how the items they had contributed turned out. This hunger 
for the book was a sight which would have gladdened the heart of any 
Education Minister. We have a reverence, almost an idolatory, for the 
book, and we consider it important that the young feel just the same. It 
would seem odd to describe the book as a labour-saving device, although 
(particularly in its printed form) that is largely what it is.

Reading David McKitterick's Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order 
recently, the striking aspect about his argument is how long it took for 
the distinctions between manuscript and print to be fully worked through 
- Mckitterick suggests that in library organisation a functional 
distinction between print and manuscript was not commonplace until the 
seventeenth century. Yet with the computer the opposite happened - very 
quickly, the computer became regarded as somehow less than the book, 
less an object of reverence and cultural aspiration. This is strange, 
because surely one aspect of the computer is that it brings us more of 
what the book offers - I first became intersted in computers because I 
love books.

How do we get to the point where we regard the digital object as a 
cultural touchstone like the book? It may be that we have underestimated 
the importance of the hardware here. It seems to me that tablet 
technology is starting to change things, and I wonder whether this is a 
sign of the future. iPad apps which by digital humanities standards are 
trivial (such as the Wasteland app) are having an enormous impact, 
because they are speaking to the same cultural sense as the book. Maybe 
it is delivering in these environments which will start to change things?

Andrew

Professor Andrew Prescott FRHistS
Head of Department
Department of Digital Humanities
King's College London
26-29 Drury Lane
London WC2B 5RL
@ajprescott
www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh
digitalriffs.blogspot.com
+44 (0)20 7848 2651

On 24/10/2012 08:21, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 416.
>              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                  Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>          Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2012 07:32:41 +0100
>          From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>          Subject: assessments
>
>
> In reply to one of my messages on Humanist, my colleague Andrew Prescott
> recommended a collection of essays I would now like to bring to your
> attention once more:
>
> Coppock, Terry, ed. 1999. Information Technology and Scholarship:
> Applications in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Oxford: Oxford
> University Press (for the British Academy).
>
> The title is not the most likely to cause you to rush to Amazon, but the
> contents make its case. Although Anthony Kenny, in "Scholarship and
> Information Technology", says many of the same things as he did in
> "Computers and the Humanities", his 1992 British Library lecture, he
> brings his essential question up to the end of the 20th Century: "After
> 45 years of humanities computing", he writes, "why has IT had so little
> effect on scholarship?" (2). This question and the attitude behind it
> set the tone for the rest of the essays in the volume, e.g. Karen Spärk
> Jones' very fine "How much has information technology contributed to
> linguistics?" Her answer: "Information technology should have much to
> offer linguistics... [but] has had rather little influence..." (109). She
> recommends "more attention from linguists".
>
> Kenny's own response comes in the form of several hypotheses: (a) all
> humanists are by nature Luddites -- which he finds wanting; (b)
> digitization has failed to give us what we need -- the "one more heave"
> school of explanation he also finds inadequate; (c) a shift in scholarly
> focus away from the empirical sort of work our machines are esp good at,
> because humanists have fled quantification and so taken to the
> theoretical high ground -- which must have seemed plausible at the time
> but is rather less compelling now; (d) computing has become ubiquitous
> and so disappeared from the sight of most people or been manifested
> primarily by what has not been written -- which I find utterly
> unconvincing. He argues that even so the effect of computing hasn't been
> at all comparable in magnitude to the shift from oral culture to written
> or to the invention of printing, as so often claimed. "It has not so
> much changed patterns of scholarship as improved the life of the
> scholar, by freeing up a great deal of time from donkeywork for genuine
> research" (4).
>
> Here one of those words should cause us to choke. Compare
> medievalist Franklin J Pegues' statement from 1965:
>
>> The purpose of the machine is not to dehumanize the humanities but to
>> free the humanist for the important work of literary criticism by providing
>> him with large and accurate masses of data that may be used by him in
>> the work which only he can accomplish.
> "Editorial: Computer Research in the Humanities". Journal of Higher
> Education 36.2: 105-8.
>
> Either Pegues nailed the real contribution of computing in 1965 or -- my
> suggestion -- the problem is precisely the relegation of computing to
> service so that we can do something else. Hence Kenny's "donkeywork". (The
> usual term in the historical literature is "drudgery", but the underlying
> social model, and the real problem here, is the same: servitude. Is this the
> best way to design for the computing of the future, to design for a way of
> being that has us as lords and ladies waited on by morally neutral
> servants (who, of course, do the living for us)?
>
> In any case Kenny's question remains and, I think, survives in robust health
> into the present. I note Ryan Cordell's statement in his proposal for a 2013
> Northeast MLA roundtable: "DH scholarship has not significantly influenced
> the vast body of literary scholarship"
> (https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/46411). Of course this last is
> not proof or even argument -- indeed, it is intended as provocation. But
> one really should pay attention to something our colleagues have been saying
> for several decades. If, like me, you think nevertheless not only that the
> great changes happen more slowly and fundamentally than we tend to notice
> but also, and primarily, that intellectual growth has been stunted by the
> wrong ideas of computing, then the critical perspective of Kenny et al does
> us great benefit. There is, after all, no need any longer to promote. Let
> the circus impresarios do that. Let us come up with the goods.
>
> Comments?
>
> Yours,WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
> the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
> University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
> (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
> (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/




--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2012 20:35:59 -0400
        From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.416 assessments
        In-Reply-To: <20121024072116.3F7C32E05 at digitalhumanities.org>


Willard:
 Some thoughts on your post:

On Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 3:21 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>
> Here one of those words should cause us to choke. Compare
> medievalist Franklin J Pegues' statement from 1965:
>
> > The purpose of the machine is not to dehumanize the humanities but to
> > free the humanist for the important work of literary criticism by
> providing
> > him with large and accurate masses of data that may be used by him in
> > the work which only he can accomplish.
> "Editorial: Computer Research in the Humanities". Journal of Higher
> Education 36.2: 105-8.
>

The questionable conclusion here is that "literary criticism" is an
immutable procedure, impervious to the advances of technology,

There may still be some who might believe that technology does not
(or should not) affect culture. As Postman remarks in Technopoly, we
must always be on guard and engage in critical inquiry--that is our
nature as philosophers. So, I am not proposing a non-critical
acceptance of technology, but rather a recognition that the
technology is far more than a tool, and more than a service.
Technology (including computing) changes how we think.

What I see happening in the humanities is that the definition of
humanities scholarship is evolving, changing in part because of
computing technology. It not a matter of the machine as our slave,
but a much more complex relationship resulting in our own evolution
and our deep changing understanding of research, scholarship, and
meaning.

>
> In any case Kenny's question remains and, I think, survives in robust
> health
> into the present. I note Ryan Cordell's statement in his proposal for a
> 2013
> Northeast MLA roundtable: "DH scholarship has not significantly influenced
> the vast body of literary scholarship"
> (https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/46411). Of course this last is
> not proof or even argument -- indeed, it is intended as provocation.

If DH scholarship has "not significantly influenced the vast body of
literary scholarship" it is likely due to the inherent conservatism in
the academy. We move slowly, but change does come, and often
the young faculty are the first to embrace it.

> But
> one really should pay attention to something our colleagues have been
> saying
> for several decades. If, like me, you think nevertheless not only that the
> great changes happen more slowly and fundamentally than we tend to notice
> but also, and primarily, that intellectual growth has been stunted by the
> wrong ideas of computing, then the critical perspective of Kenny et al does
> us great benefit. There is, after all, no need any longer to promote. Let
> the circus impresarios do that. Let us come up with the goods.
>

I agree!

-paul



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